A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 211 – Akira

Akira – September 27th, 2010

When I was in high school there was a guy in my circle of friends and acquaintances who loved this movie. Adored it. Thought it was one of the best things in the entire world. We did not get along very well and he had somewhat questionable taste in movies at times. So I avoided this. He touted Twister as one of the best movies ever made. What was I supposed to think? And yet this is a classic. He had good taste in this, at least. Still, I’ve never watched it. I’m not sure why I hadn’t even before I met him. I’d seen some anime before high school. Not much, but it wasn’t out of my realm of experience. A couple of channels played the more well known movies and series at odd hours. And I kept odd hours. You’d think I’d have seen it, but I never did.

It’s silly really, that I hadn’t gotten around to it until now. After all, it’s got a lot of things I enjoy. Some cyberpunk elements, post-apocalyptic elements, mysterious government experiment elements. Cool motorcycles. Creepy shriveled kids. Okay, strike that last. I don’t go looking or movies with creepy kids in them, but this movie does indeed have them. It’s also got explosions and rival gangs and a boat load of metaphysical philosophizing. It’s sort of like what you’d get if you mixed Neon Genesis Evangelion with Push and City Limits and/or The Warriors. And then actually had it make a modicum of sense.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to review this movie. There’s a lot going on in it and while I can’t really say it blew my mind or anything, it was a lot to try and put in some sort of coherent order for a review. Because it’s not just a movie where shit blows up. It’s not just about a city that’s slowly imploding from a combination of apathy and greed. It’s not just about rival gangs and turf wars and it’s not just about radicals rioting in the streets. That’s all just the trappings of the world. It’s the set-up. Because the real meat of the movie comes from a plot involving government experiments in ESP that lead to a number of children gaining psychic powers and how humanity isn’t really ready for them. That’s the point. That there’s a path to some form of enlightenment and humans just can’t handle it. And wound in there with that is a specific theme of feeling worthless and desperate and helpless to save yourself.

That’s a lot to put into one movie, you know. So it’s impressive that it all hangs together so well. The lead characters, Tetsuo and Kaneda, are members of a motorcycle gang in Neo-Tokyo in the year 2019. Thirty years earlier the original Tokyo was destroyed in a huge explosion. In 2019 the city is a mess with riots in the streets, high unemployment and a corrupt government. There are a few shots of the city that remind me very much of the Pruitt Igoe section of Koyaanisqatsi. The city has that feel of a place where things were horribly mismanaged from the get-go. The way it all starts out, it seems like it’s going to be about the seeds of a revolution. Kaneda meets Kei, a young woman who’s working with an underground militant group, and gets wrapped up in what they’re up to. Tetsuo, on the other hand, encounters a strange figure, a wizened child who can cause explosions. And that’s where it all goes off the rails. There’s a huge secret that’s been kept since the destruction of Tokyo. There was a boy named Akira and his powers – developed thanks to meddling by the military – went out of control. And now three of his fellow test subjects are left in government care. Tetsuo manifests similar powers, but stronger and harder to control. Which is where his relationship with Kaneda figures in.

The big themes of the movie seem to have to do with the nature of power and the dangers of knowing too much. But the relationship between Tetsuo and Kaneda is key to everything that happens once Tetsuo develops his psychic powers. Both boys grew up in a home for abandoned children. Kaneda protected Tetsuo from bullies, defended him, helped him, and always seemed to be the one to save the day. So when Tetsuo finds himself powerful enough that he doesn’t need any help, well, he snaps. One could probably make a case for Tetsuo representing the people of the city, disenfranchised and taken advantage of, no roots, no purpose, feeling like they have no control over their own lives, that someone else is holding the reins. Indeed, the people of the city follow him like he’s a messianic figure. Until the final confrontation where there’s sort of a big explosion only not quite and Tetsuo turns into a giant blob baby. But you know, these things happen.

I really do feel ridiculous for never having put this in before. I sat through all of the Evangelion episodes and never watched this. Sure, this is lacking in the giant mech department, but it’s definitely got a flair all its own. It doesn’t need the mechs. It’s got its own mythology and backstory (I’d love to know more about the other Numbers kids before the ones we meet in the movie) and some absolutely gorgeous animation that holds up well past when it was made. All in all, I’m very glad I finally saw it.

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September 27, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , ,

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